In my previous career, I was on the technical side of the company I worked for. Back then, it was unusual for a woman to be in the engineering arena and I feel like I broke some ground for other women who followed. There were times when it was just fine, but there were other times when I felt the wrath of non-professionalism when it came to dealing with a woman in a mostly man’s world.
I remember one time I was meeting with a vendor. Now mind you I was the customer in this relationship and this was our first meeting. Upon introductions, I introduced myself to the main man of the other company and said, “Hi, I’m Chris Butler….” His response was, ”Oh, Chris, gee, my secretary’s name is Chris.” My mouth dropped and I was about to say, “well my dog’s name is Mort”…which was this guy’s name. I didn’t say it…I thought better of it, because I didn’t want to play the game.
Now there is nothing wrong with secretaries, in fact, truth be told, they usually run the whole company. But in this particular situation the term was used to make him more important than me and put me in a supportive position. Needless to say, the rest of the meeting did not go well, I think he soon realized he wasn’t dealing with someone who was going to just sit back and take something like that.
The reason I’m sharing this story is to illustrate how a few poorly chosen words, intentional or not, can impact the first impression and the establishment of a relationship. This vendor and I never did have a strong relationship because I had very little respect for him. So the moral of the story is, watch what you say if you want to have an ongoing strong relationship with your customers. Even the smallest words can have a major impact.